Monday, October 26, 2009

The Shipwrecked Men by Cabeza de Vaca

This is another from the Penguin series "Great Journeys" - fabulous little gems! This title is the true account of a Spanish expedition to the New World in 1527 that goes terribly wrong. The writer, Cabeza de Vaca, tells the incredible story of the shipwrecks, hurricances, starvation, disease, cannibalism, being enslaved by Indian tribes and his harrowing journey across the American southwest and into Mexico, together with four other survivors out of the six hundred who perished. It is an amazing story. Most interesting to me was his narrative about the lives of the native Americans, what they ate (seemed like very little and not especially good) and their customs. He ended up spending ten years roaming in miserable conditions before finally finding other Spaniards again and returning to Spain, where he wrote his story for the Spanish king.

It is incredible what people went through 500 years ago to travel - it makes our modern inconveniences seem petty by comparison. I'll try to remember that when I get on that "long" flight to America this week!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Middlemarch by George Eliot (1872)

I loved this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the weeks I spent reading it, and looked forward to reading a few chapters every night. It is a surprisingly modern story about several families and couples in a small provincial town in England in the mid 1800's. George Eliot uses the storylines to touch on many themes like women's roles in marriage and public life, greed, gossip, the nature of a good marriage, family ties and expectations.

Sometimes it felt like I was reading a soap opera, as the book moved back and forth between some of the main characters just like scenes in a movie. It was also fascinating to read such a realistic depiction of what life was like nearly 200 years ago, for example, the details of the way the houses were furnished and used, the clothing, the daily habits. Most of the characters in the book are wealthy or working middle class, and we see that social status was a determining factor in many parts of life back then.

Finally, the individual stories themselves:
  • the marriage of young, intelligent Dorothea to the older scholar Casaubon and her unsuitable friendship with his nephew Will Ladislaw
  • the young ambitious doctor Lydgate who is trying to build his new practice in Middlemarch, and his difficult marriage to the spoiled little rich girl Rosamond Vincy
  • Rosamond's brother Fred Vincy's hopes of inheriting from their rich eccentric uncle Featherstone, and the implications for his later life and his engagement to Mary Garth, a practical and sensible young woman from a middle class family

A good long read to keep you company on a cold winter night!

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Just in case anyone was wondering, I haven't stopped reading! I am in the middle of Middlemarch by George Elliot (a very long book) and will be back soon!